A small group of high tech storm chasers that have been featured on the Weather Channel and the Discovery Channel are hoping that weather conditions will be condusive in Central Kansas this weekend for them to intercept a tornado, for the first time ever, with an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.
The Sirens UAV Tornado Project, and its creators Kennesaw State University students Warren Causey, Nolan Lunsford, and Brent Bouthiller are in Salina. The trio were invited by the K-State Salina Unmanned Aerial Systems Club to speak Thursday.
The tornado project has been 2 years in the making. The group was inspired by a storm chaser who was killed in a tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma, in 2013. They thought that there had to be a better, safer, way to gather potential life-saving data from a tornado.
The Siren project was originally self funded, but because of expenses that quickly accumulated, s a Kickstarter campaign was started. Over $11,000 was raised in 35 days.
The concept is simple, fly a drone equipped with sensitive scientific weather gathering equipment into a tornado to gather information.
The drone can be controlled from several miles away. The plan is to deploy from 2 to 5 miles away from a tornado. Once deployed, the group will be mobile as they remotely control the drone.
One of the biggest challenges is that drones are not designed to withstand the type of wind associated with a tornado. The plan is to determine where wind is flowing into the tornado, and then maneuver the drone to ride that inflow into the twister.
There are currently 3 drone aircraft in the fleet ready to be deployed. The group also has several other test aircraft.
The long-term goal is to eventually develop the technology for a drone to be programmed to fly itself into a tornado, or storm.
The group believes that their project could “change the game” in how to chase tornadoes. If successful, data can be gathered without a putting people in danger.
The group has not yet had an opportunity to intercept a tornado. Severe weather is in the forecast for parts of Kansas Friday and Saturday, and could provide the opportunity for the first tornado intercept.